PITTSBURGH -- While the Pittsburgh Steelers explore their offseason options, it's time to begin looking ahead at what their team will look at in 2021.
We'll start on defense, where the topic of conversation isn't as strong, but the outlook is much clearer. And there's no better place to kick off our predictions than with the group of players leading the charge at the defensive line.
The Steelers have decisions to make on the d-line this free agency. Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu are scheduled to hit the open market, leaving Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs and Henry Mondeaux as their crew at the moment.
It won't end with those five being the team's only options, but the younger players' development will allow the Steelers to play around with their group of defensive linemen next season.
So, here's Pittsburgh's d-line in 2021.
Defensive End: Stephon Tuitt, Henry Mondeaux
There's no replacing Tuitt in Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old is coming off his first double-digit sack season and added 25 quarterback hits and 10 tackles for loss to the Steelers' total.
This team and this defense loves when Tuitt is healthy and on the field. He's still in the midst of his current contract and probably has plenty of time left in the city of Pittsburgh.
Behind him will be Mondeaux. The practice squad player earned his way onto the 53-man roster and remained there for the rest of the season, overstepping Isaiah Buggs towards the end of the year.
He didn't prove to be a starter in his 11 games but did become a consistent part of the rotation and will remain that moving forward.
- As of right now, there's a slim chance the Steelers end up adding J.J. Watt to this mix.
Defensive Tackle: Cameron Heyward, Carlos Davis, Isaiah Buggs
Heyward isn't up for question. The defensive captain just signed his last NFL contract, which will pay him $75 million over the next five years. So, he's in Pittsburgh for the time being.
Davis earned his stripes as a rookie, moving from the inactive list on Sundays into a backup role ahead of Buggs. As long as the seventh-round pick continues to develop, he should remain as the team's second option behind Heyward and will be utilized as a backup nose tackle as well.
Buggs lost his place as the team's young backup in 2020 but won't be forgotten heading into the season. Right now, though, he's on the verge of becoming another Daniels McCullers.
He'll need to prove himself in training camp to climb back up the depth chart, especially if the team adds another late-round option to mix in the NFL Draft.
Nose Tackle: Tyson Alualu, NFL Draft Pick
The Steelers will keep Alualu around for another season or two, and the 33-year-old will likely happily accept another offer.
The former first-round pick has re-found himself in Pittsburgh and has become a vital part of the defensive line. This team doesn't want to screw up the dynamic of the defense in any way. They'll need to at linebacker and cornerback, meaning it's that much more important to keep Alualu around.
Behind him, the Steelers will utilize Davis, Buggs and likely another NFL Draft pick. A late-round option to join the group adds youth, potential and a low risk-player. If they luck out and it's another Davis, they can begin to analyze Buggs' future as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and hopefully grooming these younger players into a future with the team.